"I loved what drink did for me"


JENNY and Helen represent two faces of female alcoholism. Jenny's story with echoes of child abuse and poor self esteem is the more typical. Now 38, she began drinking at 18.

"I loved what drink did for me. Sober I was nobody and nobody cared about me, drinking I was confident sure and could face people." At 19, she found she was pregnant and married the father. She was lonely, isolated and began to drink at home.

Over the years she had two more children, grew more and more withdrawn, became addicted to Valium as well as to alcohol, and suffered panic attacks when she went out. Her husband was occasionally violent. "At times I felt I deserved it, because I wasn't much good anyway. Sometimes I felt the children were a nuisance, and when I couldn't get up to look after them, they missed school.

Two years ago she was admitted to St Patrick's Hospital, Dublin for an alcohol treatment programme. For the first time she discussed how she suffered sex abuse as a child, and began to see links between child hood trauma and adult behaviour. "I was there eight weeks and could have stayed forever. It was so difficult going home."

Jenny began attending AA meetings but it was only when she joined a WFS group that things began to come together for her. "There is no way I could talk about my abuse at an AA meeting with men present. Now I'm letting it go, I'm even surprised at myself that I am able to do that.

"My husband and I are still together. Sometimes he says he prefers it when I was drinking, he was better able to control me, now I know my rights and I'm more assertive. We're learning to pull together. I think he loves me, I'm coming round to believing it. My daughter is very proud of me, and right now, I'm concentrating on parenting my younger children as best I can."

HELEN began drinking as a conscious decision to anaesthetise herself against dreadful issues in her life but says the anaesthetic became the problem. "I lost nothing materially, I kept my job, my earning ability. But I lost dignity, self respect, pride, all identity. Now I've removed myself from the source of the problem, I have happiness and harmony and I'm going to spend the rest of my life discovering who I am.

She wanted to stress that group meetings can be great fun: "I can be a dribbling mess in the corner one week, and helping someone else the next. It's very safe, it's safe to laugh or cry. We've had great fun, we've gone out dancing, chatted up fellows, and people have asked us what we were on, we were having such a good time."